Category Archives: Environment

Damages Done: The Longitudinal Impacts of Natural Hazards on Wealth Inequality in the United States

Source: Junia Howell, James R Elliott, Social Problems, Advance Access, August 14, 2018
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From the abstract:
This study investigates a largely ignored contributor to wealth inequality in the United States: damages from natural hazards, which are expected to increase substantially in coming years. Instead of targeting a specific large-scale disaster and assessing how different subpopulations recover, we begin with a nationally representative sample of respondents from the restricted, geocoded Panel Study of Income Dynamics. We follow them through time (1999–2013) as hazard damages of varying scales accrue in the counties where they live. This design synthesizes the longitudinal, population-centered approach common in stratification research with a broad hazard-centered focus that extends beyond disasters to integrate ongoing environmental dynamics more centrally into the production of social inequality. Results indicate that as local hazard damages increase, so does wealth inequality, especially along lines of race, education, and homeownership. At any given level of local damage, the more aid an area receives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the more this inequality grows. These findings suggest that two defining social problems of our day – wealth inequality and rising natural hazard damages – are dynamically linked, requiring new lines of research and policy making in the future.

Effects of environmental stressors on daily governance

Source: Nick Obradovich, Dustin Tingley, and Iyad Rahwan, Proceedings on the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), August 13, 2018

Significance:
Public servants are often first responders to disasters, and the day-to-day completion of their jobs aids public health and safety. However, with respect to their individual psychological and physiological responses to environmental stressors, public sector workers may be harmed in much the same way as other citizens in society. We find that exposure to hotter temperatures reduces the activity of two groups of regulators—police officers and food safety inspectors—at times that the risks they are tasked with overseeing are highest. Given that we observe these effects in a country with high political institutionalization, our findings may have implications for the impacts of climate change on the functioning of regulatory governance in countries with lower political and economic development.

Abstract:
Human workers ensure the functioning of governments around the world. The efficacy of human workers, in turn, is linked to the climatic conditions they face. Here we show that the same weather that amplifies human health hazards also reduces street-level government workers’ oversight of these hazards. To do so, we employ US data from over 70 million regulatory police stops between 2000 and 2017, from over 500,000 fatal vehicular crashes between 2001 and 2015, and from nearly 13 million food safety violations across over 4 million inspections between 2012 and 2016. We find that cold and hot temperatures increase fatal crash risk and incidence of food safety violations while also decreasing police stops and food safety inspections. Added precipitation increases fatal crash risk while also decreasing police stops. We examine downscaled general circulation model output to highlight the possible day-to-day governance impacts of climate change by 2050 and 2099. Future warming may augment regulatory oversight during cooler seasons. During hotter seasons, however, warming may diminish regulatory oversight while simultaneously amplifying the hazards government workers are tasked with overseeing.

Corporate Impunity – “Tough on Crime” Trump Is Weak on Corporate Crime and Wrongdoing

Source: Rick Claypool, Taylor Lincoln, Michael Tanglis and Alan Zibel, Public Citizen, July 2018

From the press release:
During President Donald Trump’s first year in office, enforcement against corporate crime and wrongdoing declined dramatically, with total penalties for such violations plummeting from the final year of the Obama administration, according to a new report from Public Citizen.

In almost every federal agency under control of a Trump appointee – and most notably at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the nation’s lead law enforcement agency – enforcement against corporations dropped, often plunging to just a small fraction of what it had been.

Public Citizen’s report “Corporate Impunity” tracked enforcement activities against corporate violators by 12 federal agencies overseen by a Trump administration official for the majority of Trump’s first year in office. The report was co-released with Violation Tracker, a corporate enforcement database produced by the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First.

In 11 of the 12 agencies, the amount of penalties imposed on corporate violators declined, in many cases drastically. In 10 of the 12 agencies, the number of individual enforcement actions against corporate violators also declined significantly.

Related:
OSHA Broke the Law by Refusing Worker Injury and Illness Data – Timely Data Is Needed to Protect Workers From Threats to Health and Safety
Source: Public Citizen, Press release, July 25, 2018

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) broke the law by suspending parts of its electronic recordkeeping rule, Public Citizen, the American Public Health Association and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists said in a lawsuit filed today with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. To help the agency monitor and prevent workplaces injuries and illnesses, the rule requires covered workplaces to submit certain 2017 work-related injury and illness data to the agency by July 1. OSHA recently announced that it would not accept the data.

Instead of following notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures required by the Administrative Procedure Act, OSHA simply announced on its website that it was suspending the July 1 deadline, that it would neither require nor accept the data and that it intended to revise the rule. In the lawsuit, the groups explain that OSHA lacks the legal authority to suspend the deadline without first providing public notice and an opportunity to comment, and that OSHA’s stated reason for the suspension is arbitrary and capricious. The groups are asking the court to order OSHA to require and accept the workplace injury and illness data, as required by the rule.

Public Citizen’s Corporate Presidency Project

State Constitutions in the Era of a Shifting Supreme Court

Source: Rockefeller Institute of Government and the Government Law Center at Albany Law SchoolJuly 23, 2018

The Rockefeller Institute of Government and the Government Law Center at Albany Law School recently hosted “How Can State Constitutions Respond to a Shifting Supreme Court?” to examine the role state constitutions can play if the Supreme Court begins to roll back federal protections.

With the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and the recent nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to take his place, the Supreme Court is expected to shift further to the conservative end of the ideological spectrum, with the potential for weakening or even extinguishing important constitutional protections.

Much attention is being paid to the possible implications for reproductive rights, protections for immigrants, affirmative action, environmental protections, LGBTQ rights, and other issues. So what does it mean for New Yorkers — or for states more generally? Although we often don’t think of state constitutions, many of them offer protections above and beyond what is provided in the federal Constitution.

What role can state constitutions play if the Supreme Court begins to weaken federal protections? In many ways, your position on the states-versus-federal rights issue often depends upon where you sit. Last year the Rockefeller Institute and Government Law Center at Albany Law School issued a report on the topic.

Related:
Protections in the New York State Constitution Beyond the Federal Bill of Rights
Source: Edited by Scott N. Fein and Andrew B. Ayers, the Government Law Center at Albany Law School and the Rockefeller Institute of Government, April 18, 2017

Local, county and state governments are suing oil companies over climate change

Source: Patrick Parenteau, The Conversation, July 5, 2018

Thanks to climate change, sea levels are rising and storm surges are becoming more costly and frequent. Since most American state and local governments are cash-strapped, cities and counties fear that they won’t be able to afford all the construction it will take to protect their people and property.

So some communities in California and Washington state, as well as New York City, are suing oil companies in a bid to force them to foot the bill. Recently, Rhode Island became the first state to take this step, when it sued 21 oil and gas companies “for knowingly contributing to climate change and the catastrophic consequences to the State and its residents, economy, eco-system, and infrastructure.”

Does it make sense to hold the industries responsible for global warming liable for the price – in dollars and cents – that everyone will have to pay to adapt to a changed climate?

As a scholar of environmental law, I believe climate liability cases like these have merit…..

Wind farms bring windfalls to local governments across US

Source: Francis A Mamo, Swami Venkataraman, Lesley Ritter, Mark McIntire, Rachel Cortez, Leonard Jones, Alexandra S. Parker, Moody’s, Sector In-Depth, May 8, 2018
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The proliferation of wind farms in the US has propelled tax base growth and generated new tax revenue for local governments, particularly in rural areas with abundant wind resources.

Job versus environment: an examination on the attitude of union members toward environmental spending

Source: Meng-jieu Chen, Environmental Economics and Policy Studies, Volume 19, Issue 4, October 2017

From the abstract:
There seems to be a widespread perception in the United States that labor union members are indifferent or even hostile to environmental protection efforts. Previous work on the nature of the relationship between labor unions and environmentalists, mostly drawn from case studies and interviews with union leaders, has not reached consistent conclusions. To provide a realistic examination of the relationship, we apply an empirical analysis to investigate attitudes of individual union members toward the stringency of environmental policies. Using the General Social Survey, we examine grass-root union members’ preferences for public environmental spending options. Contrary to prevailing perceptions of conflict, we find a positive association between union membership and the choosing to increase environmental spending. Further, investigating the environmental attitude of union members in heavily regulated industries, we do not find evidence to support the argument that these laborers tend to be unfavorable toward environment. Our results also suggest that the level of regulation an industry is facing does not appear to have a statistically significant effect on respondent’s choice of environmental spending.